2/4: Lighting a Flame – Light Unshackled – Reformation 500

The middle-ages were a time of disease
grinding poverty and religious corruption. Only a few Bibles were in existence. Most were in Latin,
locked away in universities or monasteries. A flicker of flame was kept alive by the Waldenses
who painstakingly copied the scriptures by hand and carefully shared it with others
on their missionary journeys. In spite of the Waldensians’ efforts, the State Church was still the most powerful political
and religious force in Western Europe. It’s persecution of dissenters and heretics
forced the truth underground. Join us as we uncover the heroic lives
of those who led out in this movement and changed the world forever. This is the story of Light Unshackled. It was during this dark hour that a man
stepped onto the stage, who would herald the coming morning. He arose from the edges of the Holy Roman Empire
in the country of England. His name was John Wycliffe. As a young man Wycliffe arrived at Oxford University
to study theology. He quickly was recognized as a
diligent scholar and deep thinker. While he was at Oxford in the summer of 1348 AD,
the Black Death arrived in England. Hundreds of thousands of people died from this ravaging disease. Carts would rumble down the streets in the morning to
pick up those who had died during the night. As church cemeteries filled up many were
thrown into mass graves and hastily buried. There is hardly a family to be found who
had not lost a loved one to the plague. Wycliffe was deeply impacted by what he saw.
As he contemplated the dead and the dying, he along with much of Europe began to
question the traditions of the church. As a professor at Oxford he had access to
the Scriptures. He began spending more and more time reading them
and within its pages he found answers and hope to the deep and painful questions
surging through his mind. As England’s social conditions were deteriorating,
friars and monks swarmed through the English countryside begging for money and food. Though the monks had vows of poverty the monasteries did not, and they
became very, very wealthy. The gulf between the church
and the people was growing. This infuriated Wycliffe. Having deeply studied the Bible and the teachings of
the church he found major discrepancies. He boldly began to preach and write
against any unscriptural practice. He saw penance and indulgences as ways to
manipulate people to donate money. He rejected the idea of confessing one’s
sins to a priest and that a man could forgive sins. Based on the Bible, he denounced many of the
religious practices at the State Church including celibacy, the authority of the
priests over God and the mass, idol worship, pilgrimages, the veneration of the saints
and prayers to and for the dead. When the church told the English monarch
that he must pay a church tax, Wycliffe spoke to Parliament arguing eloquently that
such demands were not in harmony with the Bible. Wycliffe’s influence convinced the king to
refuse the financial demands of the Pope and with this he had touched the church’s source of money. Enraged that his influence is greater than their own the church stirred up controversy against
him and forced him out of Oxford. He withdrew to Lutterworth and pastored
this rural congregation behind me. The church thought that this would
decrease his influence but he was about to release the
greatest ally to the Reformation. Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into English. This was in direct opposition to Rome. The State Church had a long history
of suppressing the Bible. In 1199 AD, Pope Innocent III stated that the Bible
should not be in the language of the common person, where the unlearned would be unable
to interpret it properly. The Council to Toulouse 1229 AD, condemned anyone who translated or owned a Bible. And just a few years later in 1234 AD, the Council of Tarragona decreed the following: “No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testament in the common language and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days of this decree
so that they may be burned.” Not only did Wycliffe translate the
Bible into English but he trained a group of lay pastors called Lollards. Fanning out across Europe these men distributed thousands of handwritten copies of the Bible as well as Wycliffe’s writings. The Church opposed his teachings and writings. Over his lifetime Wycliffe was put on trial three separate times, but each time he was able to escape. During one trial he gave a thundering response for his belief in God and the Bible as God’s
Word and then simply walked out. His accusers sat stunned. It was as if God’s
hand was over this brilliant scholar protecting him from a martyr’s grave. It was during this time that the Roman Church was rocked by a major scandal
that distracted its attention and protected Wycliffe. Three separate men claimed to be
the sole Pope of the church and proceeded to excommunicate the others
in what is now called the Western schism. They strongly denounced
their opponents as being the Antichrist. Speaking of the Pope of Rome and the
Pope of Avignon France, Wycliffe said that they were two halves of Antichrist
making up the perfect man of sin between them. He encouraged people to look away
from the men to the Word of God. He said, “Even though there were a hundred Popes
and though every mendicant monk was a cardinal, they would be entitled to confidence
only insofar as they agreed with the Bible. The Western schism lasted almost 40 years and was finally resolved at the Council of Constance. The three Popes were removed and another
Pope was elected to take their place. While the church was fighting
the truth of God was able to spread. As the dust settled the state church began to focus on rooting out the Reformation movement. They found many in England had
accepted Wycliffe’s teachings. In fact one papal delegate complained: “You cannot meet two persons on the street
but one of them is a Lollard.” The Queen of England was herself they convert to
Wycliffe’s teachings and worked to protect him. During one of his trials she sent word to the council
forbidding them to pass sentence against him. She was a princess from Bohemia
and through her influence the Reformers’ writings were widely
circulated in her native country. Wycliffe has been called the
Morning Star of the Reformation. Just before the sunrise he was like
a bright light in the darkened sky. Morning was dawning and light
was beginning to spread. As the Lollards carried the scriptures
far and wide across Europe concepts from the Bible were being
embraced by the people. The Bible had been translated into the
Bohemian language but over time it was outlawed. In its place ignorance and superstition took hold. But the rumblings of change could be
heard in the distance. Jerome, a fiery preacher and professor from Bohemia,
came to Oxford University in England to continue his studying. While there he came
across some pamphlets by Wycliffe. While he read them he became convinced that
these were truth. Copying them down he took them back with him to Bohemia and shared
them with a professor by the name of Jan Huss. Huss was named after the
town he was from: Hussenic or goose town. His gentle and winning deportment earned him
admiration from classmates and professors alike. He graduated in 1396 AD, and was asked to become
a faculty member of the University in Prague. Over the following years Huss and Jerome
became close friends. Their personalities complemented each other. Huss was thoughtful, wise and discerning. Jerome was
passionate, charismatic and a powerful speaker. Jerome encouraged Huss to study the writings of
Wycliffe that he had brought back from England. Huss was intrigued and agreed
with what he was reading. He found Wycliffe’s teachings to
be supported in Scripture and believed the church would benefit from these
rediscovered beliefs found in the Bible. In 1402 AD, Huss was appointed rector of the
Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. It was in this church that week after week
Huss preached not in Latin but in the language of his members. Thousands came out to hear about a Savior
that loved them and cared about them personally. From his pulpit and from his classroom light was shining and reaching much of Prague and Bohemia and converting them
to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But trouble was brewing at the University of Prague. Johann Hubner, a fellow professor, strongly challenged
forty-five points of Wycliffe’s teachings, including that the Bible was the only basis
of authority for christian doctrine. He was determined to have Wycliffe’s writings
declared heretical by the State Church. Three years later, Pope Innocent VII ordered the
Archbishop of Prague to suppress the reading, teaching and studying of Wycliffe’s writings. But Huss had seen the light of the Bible
shining through the writings of Wycliffe and felt compelled to continue sharing them. By the time Huss
was preaching the reformed doctrines, just under 20 years had passed
since Wycliffe’s death. The church authorities in Bohemia
appealed to the new pope Alexander V. They were upset at Huss for criticising
the selling of indulgences to raise funds. He accused the Church of acting out of selfish interest.
It wasn’t long before Rome responded. In 1412 AD, Huss received a letter demanding
that he travel to Rome to stand trial for his faith. He knew that if he went to Rome, it
was certain torture and death. Not surprisingly he refused to go. Enraged at his disobedience, the Pope
issued the ultimate punishment. Huss was excommunicated. In the eyes of the church he was now condemned
to burn in hell for all eternity. To the medieval mind this was to be dreaded
more than anything else. But Huss’ mind had been lit by the Word of God. How could a human authority condemn someone
to burn in hell for obeying divine commands? The Bible was his only authority. To it he would bow. Unafraid of a piece of paper he continued
to preach every single week. Thousands in the city of Prague followed his example and packed the chapel to hear
the Word of God for themselves. As the Bohemian people accepted
and spread the newfound light there was an awakening to the principles
of grace and hope. The Waldenses continued pouring young
missionaries from their valleys into central Europe. And the Lollards from England
joined them in spreading the light. Rome was rapidly losing ground to the Reformation. In a desperate attempt to stop its advancement,
it put the city of Prague under interdict. No one could marry, receive communion or
even be buried in the church cemetery until Jan Huss was removed as pastor in
Prague. To protect the people Huss left the city to continue
preaching and writing from the countryside. As he was leaving he clearly stated
that he no longer trusted indecisive Kings, hostile Pope’s or ineffective councils. He appealed directly to Jesus Christ as his judge and the
Scriptures as the foundation of his faith. Bypassing the structure and traditions of the medieval
church he argued that Christ alone is the head of the church and that a Pope
through ignorance and love of money can make many mistakes. And that to follow the Bible,
even if a Pope demands otherwise, is to obey Christ. For the Bohemian reformation
this step was monumental. Bohemia as a nation was accepting a
new authority: the Bible. The State Church realized that any attempt to force
Huss to come to Rome would be futile. So they pressured the emperor of Bohemia
to deal with the heresy. Huss was summoned to Constance Germany to answer
the charges that have been leveled against him. Emperor Sigismund promised him the
protection of a safe conduct and his appearance was presented as an
opportunity to dialogue and to share new light with the emperor in his court. But the dialogue was not to be. For the first few weeks in Constance,
Huss was allowed his freedom. But on November 28th, 1414 AD, he was arrested and eventually thrown into the dungeon
beneath the tower behind me. He was left to rot for months
in this awful place. Emperor Sigismund thought to release him but the
Pope’s representatives argued that agreements with heretics were not binding and that Huss should
be punished immediately for his apostasy. Sigismund wavered and Huss stayed in prison. When Jerome heard that Huss had been captured,
he rushed to Constance without any guarantee of a safe conduct. He arrived in April of 1415 AD to the surprise of many.
But he quickly realized there was nothing he could do to help his friend. He tried to escape back to Bohemia but was captured along the route,
brought back to Constance and thrown into jail. The enemies of Huss wanted to have him
executed without a trial, but powerful Bohemian princes pled for Huss to be
given a hearing and to this Sigismund finally relented. On June 8th 1415 AD, Huss was
summoned to appear before the court. As he stepped before the court here in
the church, he was barely recognizable. After months in a dark filthy dungeon, he was sick, gaunt
and physically and emotionally exhausted. One man standing against
the most powerful authorities in the kingdom. But this man stood on the authority of the Bible. The trial was a sham.
Thirty articles were read against him. When he attempted to respond or correct different areas, he was told to be quiet. In the end his options were to renounce
his teachings and beliefs or die at the stake. Huss protested his innocence and to
refused to renounce anything until he was clearly shown from scripture
where he was wrong. As he attempted to speak loud shouts
echoed through the hall in an attempt to silence him. At this Huss turned and looked directly at Sigismund. It was on his promise of a safe conduct
that Huss had come. Sigismund’s face turned a crimson red
and he turned away in shame And so, Huss was condemned by the
church authorities on July 6, 1415 AD, and handed over to secular authorities to be burned. Realizing that he was about to die
Huss fell to his knees and prayed aloud, “Lord Jesus Christ, I implore thee, forgive
all mine enemies for thy great mercy sake.” This used to be an open field. This rock is where the stake was set up. The Emperor’s marshal asked Huss one last
time to recant. Huss refused. “God is my witness” he responded “that the evidence
against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the intention
of winning men, if possible, from their sins. Today I will gladly die.” His fate was sealed. Straw, wood and
kindling were piled up around his body, and pages from Wycliffe’s handwritten Bible
were torn out and used to start the flames. As the blistering fire licked at his body
he sang, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” He could be heard reciting the Psalms
until the flames silenced his voice. Finally, a godly man whose only desire
was to save souls, was gone. But Huss’ enemies were not satisfied. They wanted his doctrines, his teachings and
his memory destroyed. The executioners scooped up his ashes
and threw them into the Rhine River to prevent a burial site that could promote
the fame of the reformer. But his ashes were carried to Switzerland, France,
Germany, the Netherlands and into the expanse of the North Sea. Little did Huss’ enemies know that just as his ashes were carried to distant shores, so the truth he uncovered
would spread throughout the world. The death of Huss deeply impacted Jerome
who was still rotting in prison. He had already suffered immensely and the
thought of burning alive terrified him. In fear he renounced his beliefs and
pledged to follow the doctrines of the State Church. But his sufferings were far
from over, and he was thrown back into prison. As he lay in his cell his guilty conscience tortured him. How could he have denied his Lord? How could he have gone against
the teachings he believed in? He was again brought before the council and urged even more clearly to renounce his beliefs. But Jerome had changed.
Gone was his former cowardice. He said, “You condemned Wycliffe and Jan Huss, not for having shaken the doctrines of the church but simply because they exposed the scandals proceeding from the clergy: their pomp, their pride and all
the vices of the prelates and the priests. The things which they have
affirmed and which are irrefutable I also affirm.” The council was furious and condemned
him to die. A year after the execution of Jan Huss, on
May 30, 1416 AD, Jerome was burned. As he stood there with his hands tied to the stake and kindling piled up around his legs, he was unflinching. Gone was his former cowardice. As the executioner came up behind him to lite the fire, Jerome said “Come and kindle it before my eyes. If I was afraid of it, I would not have
come to this place.” As the flames licked up around him his last words were:
“This soul, in flames, I offer.” The enemies of the Reformation were gearing up to wipe the Bible and its followers off the map. Those in Bohemia received the news of Huss and Jerome’s death with fear and consternation. Rumors swirled that Emperor Sigismund
was amassing a vast army to once and for all deal with those who the State Church
called heretics. In 1420 AD, Pope Martin V issued a papal bull calling for a crusade against the Wyckliffites, the Hussites
and all other heretics in Bohemia. The church promised wealth, adventure and a guaranteed entrance to heaven for all those who fought alongside her. Fear gripped the heart of the people and they looked to God to raise up a deliverer. They did not have long to wait. God was already moving on a man.
His name was Jan Žižka. As a military leader there are few equals to Žižka. Brilliant, courageous and humble. He is in a rare group of generals who never lost a battle. As he heard of a personal God who would
forgive sins through faith in Jesus Christ, he was determined to give his life to Him. When the forces gathered to eradicate
the Reformation from Prague, Žižka stood ready to lead the small armies of
Bohemia against the invaders. On June 30, 1420 AD, Emperor Sigismund with over 80,000 Crusaders arrived outside the walls of Prague. The sea of soldiers, like the fog of impending doom, spread out around the city. The citizens of Prague were terrified. They were greatly outnumbered, were not trained in war and had few weapons. It appeared that the Reformation was
about to be snuffed out. With intense earnestness the town
turned to the Lord for help. What happened next is incredible. Sigismund ordered his elite cavalry
to take an outpost not far from the city of Prague. 3,000 of his cavalry marched across the river
and made their way towards the outpost which was guarded by 26 men,
two women and one small child. They were reduced to throwing stones and
using sticks to keep the enemy at bay. It appeared that they were about to lose
with one of the women whose name has been lost to history, charged towards the
enemy shouting; “No true Christian will retreat from Anti-Christ!” This inspired the others and this handful of people were able to hold the thousands at bay until Žižka could mobilize his reinforcements
and come to their aid. But his reinforcements were badly outnumbered and
ill-prepared to fight the elite cavalry. But they came, singing hymns, praying and trusting in the power of God to deliver them. As they approached, the elite cavalry felt a
supernatural terror come over them and they fled from a choir. Throwing themselves off the cliff
and drowning in the river below, they were completely routed by a choir
singing hymns and praising God. Over the next 15 years of the Hussite wars,
General Žižka led his army from victory to victory. Even after he lost sight in both of his eyes, he was able to envision the
battlefield and guide his soldiers accordingly. His leadership protected the
Reformation in its infancy. Žižka and his generation eventually died,
and the old guard is replaced with moderate leadership who are willing to compromise
for the sake of peace and safety. The call for unity within the church was
promoted as more important than following the teachings of Scripture. Eventually the State Church regained control
and light was shackled away from the people. Wycliffe, Huss and Jerome past, but their
work of sharing the Bible with the common person had planted seeds of light. They had not formulated the principles of the Reformation, rather they discovered these principles by simply reading the Bible. As people followed the light,
God blessed with even more light. Contained within the scriptures is the
path to forgiveness and peace with God. It teaches that salvation is through
Jesus Christ not a church and that it’s free and personal
without the need of a priest. This cut at the very foundation of the religious hierarchy. The church taught for a short life of sin, God would
condemn a person to burn in hell for all eternity. This put an emphasis on the need to
purchase forgiveness, but created a vast chasm between God and man. As Huss stood before the council that
condemned him to die, he said, “Today you are going to burn a goose but in a
century, you’ll have a swan which you can either roast nor boil.” This he said referring to himself as
the goose from goose town, but he also referred to the coming of a reformer
whom the church would be unable to silence, whose hammer thundering against the door of a church would advance the Reformation with
explosive power. Please visit LightUnshackled.com

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